The William Castle Film Collection (Sony): Night and fog. The Thames River. A shadowy and portly figure greets viewers: "Hello, my homicidal friends." Hitchcock? Nah, it's just William Castle, that P.T. Barnum of American horror films. Sony's slick box set rounds up the director's essential fright flicks, including "The Tingler," "13 Ghosts," "Straightjacket" and "Dr. Sardonicus." Three of the eight films are making their DVD debuts, while the others have been remastered to the studio's high standards. Castle was known for making fright fun, so be prepared to scream and laugh along with these killer Bs from a half century ago. Start with the ace documentary "Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story" and then go directly to "The Tingler," starring Vincent Price and the world's lamest -- but plenty scary -- movie monster.
Audition (Shout!): Japanese director Takashi Miike's masterpiece, renowned for its mixture of mind-bending horror and lonely-hearts drama. Shout! Factory just updated the title, adding an intro and a new feature-length commentary from the bemused director and his screenwriter. "You may regret watching it," Miike humbly warns viewers. Devotees no doubt wanted to go kiri-kiri-kiri (deeper-deeper-deeper) with a definitive 10th anniversary edition, but Shout's DVD and Blu-ray editions are the best to date. (They include more than an hour's worth of cast interviews and a booklet essay.) The tale is of a lonely widower who uses a movie audition as a ruse for meeting women. He's soon obsessed with a long-haired beauty who comes with plenty of baggage -- stuffed full of instruments of torture. Essential, compelling, sick, heartbreaking ... a modern classic of horror.
An American Werewolf in London (Universal): The studio that first brought us the werewolf does a makeover on Jon Landis' horror-comedy gem from 1981. This was among the last of the makeup horror movies, done by effects wiz Rick Baker -- the transformation scene is his Oscar-winning masterpiece. "American Werewolf" hasn't aged a bit: the rotting corpse guy is still a hoot, the violence has plenty of kick and Jenny Agutter was never more luminous. Plenty of extras, including a new feature-length documentary. The Blu-ray images look quite good considering the original's softness and grain. The super-crisp soundtrack -- filled with all those lunar songs like "Bad Moon Rising" -- will have you howling along. "Moondance" has never sounded better.
Deadgirl (Dark Sky): Ever wonder what it would be like to have sex with a zombie? Me neither, but you'll get an eyeful in this sick piece of business. In a mostly lame year for new horror films, "Deadgirl" returns us to the days when viewers could be equally repulsed and fascinated by a low-budget shocker. A vaguely hot zombie is turned into a sex slave after a couple of high school guys find her chained up in an abandoned mental institution. Jenny Spain turns in some fierce work as the titular dead girl. Those who are offended by, well, pretty much anything that could be shown in a mainstream movie should steer clear. Directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel belong on any horror fan's watch list.
Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection (Sony): "Mothra" returns, in glorious Tohoscope. This genre trilogy from Japanese director Ishiro Honda stretches from 1958-1961, prime time for radiation meltdowns, alien invasions and giant monsters from the far East. The rarely seen "Mothra" is the big deal here, finally getting a U.S. release that lives up to its reputation. Sure, Mothra the monster looks like a tube sock (see the Tingler), but the film boasts many fine miniatures and effects. The story concerns a gangster who steals singing fairies from a mysterious island. Mothra comes to their rescue, winning hearts as it levels what's left of Japan. The other movies are "The H-Man" and "Battle From Outer Space," both pretty good. Sour note: Sony went all cheap with the packaging, sticking three discs on the same spindle.
Repulsion (Criterion): Madness, murder and a breathtakingly young Catherine Deneuve drive this psychological horror movie from Roman Polanski. Criterion's Blu-ray version delivers exquisite black-and-white images, all the better to capture the awful goings-on in the apartment of a young French woman living in London. "Repulsion" characterizes the anti-heroine's response to men, but get a load of the famous rotting rabbit on a dinner plate that mirrors her deterioration into madness. Another fine Criterion chiller from this year is "Empire of Passion" (1978), an erotic ghost story from Nagisa Oshima.
Timecrimes (Magnet): Slasher meets sci-fi. Spain's "Timecrimes" deals with time travel on a micro scale -- not even a day passes by. The film's budget wasn't much. There are no special effects or splashy concepts. Director Nacho Vigalondo doesn't need them. A well-off suburbanite, Hector, witnesses some odd events in the woods. He rushes off to investigate and finds a naked woman, dead. Hector's soon been stabbed by a frantic man with ghastly pink bandages covering his head. Hector seeks help in a rural lab, where a slacker mad scientist is doing temporal experiments on the cheap. Hector is convinced to hide in a clunky time machine, which transports him back an hour. Thus begins a comically sinister loop that plays like a "Memento"-style puzzle.
Drag Me to Hell (Universal): Life is full of choices, some fateful, some fatal. Your choice here is between the uncut version of Sam Rami's roller coaster of a horror movie and the theatrical. Either will do for the Blu-ray hell-ride to come, fueled by a hyperactive sound mix and sparkling digital images. Bank officer Christine made her choice by evicting a strange old lady from her home, bringing on a curse that's good for 90 minutes of horrific action. Universal's killer presentation includes a lengthy collection of production "diaries," in which we meet the true lady with the evil eye ... and she's a sweetheart. Director Rami was long overdue in returning to his icky roots in horror. Universal also just broke out a Blu-ray of Rami's "Army of Darkness," the fun, dumb and furious follow-up to the two "Evil Deads."
Underworld Trilogy (Sony): The "Underworld" franchise -- so obsessed with time, lineage and the great ghostly events of the past -- undergoes a resurrection of sorts with this complete Blu-ray box set. Those revisiting the vampire vs. werewolf series can tear into fresh meat by rearranging the three films into a linear chronology. In other words, start with the prequel, "Rise of the Lycans," proceed through the original "Underworld," and wrap with the sequel "Evolution." No one will confuse this series with the "Matrix" trilogy, but "Underworld" has been a satisfying modern series in the Hammer spirit. All three movies look terrific on Blu-ray. Audio is solid, sometimes remarkable.
Let The Right One In (Magnolia): Hip Hollywood vampires have become a plague this year -- here is the antidote. Yes, it appears this DVD release was botched with the use of substandard subtitles (compared with the U.S. theatrical release). But "Let the Right One In" can't be missed, and there's no point in waiting for the proper DVD (to be marked "theatrical version"). Director Tomas Alfredson turns his cameras on two 12-year-olds, one a sad boy, the other a sad girlish vampire. They live in a crappy part of Stockholm, where life sucks and locals are starting to turn up drained of blood. Among the best horror movies of the decade -- if not the best.Top 10 horror movie DVDs of 2008